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N.B. premier criticized for province-hopping bid to raise campaign cash

Premier Blaine Higgs speaks to reporters at the New Brunswick Legislative Building in Fredericton. (Source: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ron Ward) Premier Blaine Higgs speaks to reporters at the New Brunswick Legislative Building in Fredericton. (Source: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ron Ward)
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FREDERICTON -

New Brunswick opposition leaders are denouncing the premier's cross-country travel to raise campaign funds and are promising to ban political donations from outside the province if they win the election this fall.

Premier Blaine Higgs this week held fundraisers for his Progressive Conservatives in British Columbia and Alberta and has one scheduled next month in Toronto.

New Brunswick election law allows campaign contributions of up to $3,000 annually from people whether they live in the province or outside, but Liberal Leader Susan Holt said the practice should be stopped.

She acknowledged that she received donations for her 2022 leadership campaign from outside the province but said that is different from Higgs' recent western trips, during which the premier promoted his province's controversial policy on gender identity in schools.

"Going to meet with interest groups as the premier of the province and soliciting funding on the back of policy positions is different than hosting expat New Brunswickers at a friends and family reception for a leader of a political party," Holt said.

"But we acknowledged that that's what we've done before, and we're committed to stopping the practice for all parties going forward."

Green Leader David Coon also said his party would ban out-of-province fundraising. His party has also received money from outside the province. "It certainly creates an unlevel playing field," he said.

Coon said Higgs has abandoned New Brunswickers and is chasing his own personal agenda.

"We've got major, major issues in terms of accessing health care and our ERs and the cost of housing and property taxes and power bills, and homelessness. And, you know, the list is long. And he's completely distracted by other things instead of focusing on the job he was elected to do," he said.

Mario Levesque, a political science professor at Mount Allison University, said anyone seeking to lead the province should be funded by those living there. Accepting donations from outside could create the impression that non-residents have undue influence over provincial politics, he said.

Because Higgs' events attract like-minded people in the West, Levesque said such groups could influence policy areas such as eroding minority rights, bilingualism and focusing narrowly on paying down the debt.

Steve Outhouse, manager of the PC's 2024 campaign, said the suggestion that donors from outside New Brunswick would have an influence on policies in the province is fearmongering.

The meetings, he said, offer "a chance for people who want to meet Premier Higgs because they appreciate the stance he took on issues like policy 713, that he is supportive of natural resource development across the country, that he's a fiscal conservative." Policy 713 is the New Brunswick policy on gender identity in schools, which the province last year changed to require parental consent for children under 16 to use different names or pronouns in class.

Outhouse would not say how much money Higgs has raised from his western swing. The events in B.C. and Alberta accepted voluntary donations, while tickets for his Feb. 8 dinner at the Empire Club in Toronto cost $1,000 a person. Outhouse said Higgs' travel expenses are all paid for by the party.

He pointed out that Holt has also received money from outside the province, and asked whether she was going to refund that cash and reject future donations that come in from across the country.

"Is she going to stop receiving donations this year?" Outhouse asked. "It's an election year. So is she going to do that?"

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2024.

For more New Brunswick news visit our dedicated provincial page.

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